Monday, December 25, 2006

The Thinkers50 – An Elite Club…

Have been consistently inconsistent in blogging for while now; Would it would take a New year’s Resolution for me to be back to this forum again? Maybe…Maybe not. A bit of extra time would be just fine :).

Guess, this is where most of the blogs lead to. Too much of thought and too much of dreaming. But little on execution. Incidentally, this place will NOT be like most of the blogs, and I am pretty sure about it.

However, till the time I get into proving that part of the practical and actionable side of my thoughts, there ARE some great leaders, some living legends who have done it, and done it with some perfect finesse. So much so that they are now honored with the “World’s best thinkers” Awards

People who have made a difference, people who belong to an elite class of thinkers, people who not only have thought about themselves, but have oriented the entire world by providing an altogether new dimension to their thinking, people…..who are probably underrated by being called “people” – Some of the finest and most admired Thinkers – are part of the elite club called the “The Thinkers50”.

Started in 2001, the Thinkers50 for 2005 is probably history now. But, the best thinkers for this year would be out pretty soon.

Some of the names that have the highest recall are featured, be it Michael Porter, Bill Gates, Tom Peters, Philip Kotler or C K Prahalad - these men surely share top of the mind recall, when it comes to Management Gurus – Deservingly the best thinkers of our time. Read more on the rankings and the methodology followed.

As the year comes to a close, maybe its time for us to look back and admire few people who have made a difference to the way business is done, who have influenced many with their perspectives, who are idealized by more than a few across geographies, across cultures, across functions, and across societies.

Will look forward to some of the prominent names this year as well…would post an update as and when it comes!

Are you thinking? ;-)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Keeperless Shops in Rural India – Still workable?

If someone told you to keep a vegetable shop open 24 by 7 next to the busy bypass roads of Delhi, without a soul to guard it, and a tray kept for collections, even having change inside for the convenience of the customers, would you be interested? :)

In all probability, you would mock at the idea itself or discard it as pure rubbish! Well, Delhi might be an extreme case, but most parts of the country would never function with a business model, that is based on unmanned shops for purchases.

Surprisingly, such a model IS functioning in India currently, in the state of Mizoram, on the Aizawl-Champhai Highway. And not only is it working, it is expanding and scaling up, too! Just found this nice piece in the Hindustan TimesKeeperless shops. Interesting read – an interesting business model in Rural India there!

Read the article to gain an insight into this business. Why and how is it possible to run this model, considering that poverty and honest means are perceived to be too difficult to co-exist in the same environment and instigate mutual discomfort?

For one, the commodities/products on sale are vegetables, poultry and eggs – something that the poor farmers produce in-house. So, chances of them wanting to go and get these purchases are almost zilch. Then, The clientele is the passers by, who are generally traders, traveling to the Indonesia-Myanmar border for trade. Thus, cash is not a problem. More so, since it is vegetables, and the intent of the shop is trust, most of the customers reinforce this trust with honest purchases (that doesn’t mean that there are NO thefts there!)

Must say, the initiative is commendable. However, it is slightly difficult to digest this as a “workable” and “replicable” business model. Unless you have vending machines, which have a control and a security mechanism, such a concept might not work on its own.

Want to try? ;)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Want to be a millionaire in Arizona? Simply vote!

Was browsing through New York Times, when an article struck me – a new way to get voters to vote – by offering them incentives!

According to the article, votes are being promoted as “lottery tickets” in Arizona, wherein a voter could win a million dollars by voting. They would be given ballot-cum-lottery tickets, which would be used for lottery post-elections. One lucky winner would get a million dollars, and many others would get 1000 dollars each!

Funding would be done by the unclaimed amount of lottery winnings (around $2.7 million!). Promoting “very high odds” as the underlying theme, this sort of promotion would definitely attract attention from majority of the population, who would not mind a “free shot” at the lottery. Meanwhile, they just have to go and vote alongside!

One could argue that this is not a correct way of pulling voters, and that "socially conscious” voters do not need such financial incentives. However, there was some convincing logic provided in the article to argue on this point.

Most of the voters who do not turn up for voting are from the lower and middle income groups, thereby the socioeconomics working in favor of this concept (or could be the other way round too!). According to Mark Osterloh, as quoted in the article, the man behind the campaign, “Today, it’s the poor and minorities who vote in the lowest numbers,” he says. “The nonvoters are usually people working two or three jobs and struggling to pay the bills.

Is such a method/initiative within the purview of the social marketers? Is this ethical and impartial?
According to me, as long as the incentives are being provided for unbiased voting, as long as the motive is simply to get people to vote, and not vote for some xyz and as long as there is a tangible change in the social habits with something to counter the indifferent helpless attitude of majority of the stakeholders, I think the initiative is absolutely pertinent and commendable. It is only when this initiative takes a biased turn that things tend to go ugly.

Can this serve as a direction for the subcontinent? Going by a typical Indian mentality (including myself), such a concept seems difficult to digest, and most would consider it incomplete, if not irrelevant. Incidentally, “financial incentives” during election time is not a new concept for most of the Indians living in the hinterland. The Problem is that all of it is oriented towards “voting for so and so candidate” and not simply voting, per se! Some of the parts are even notoriously famous for such tactics. This is where the initiative crosses the line!

This area could be explored further, with certain incentives being provided to the potential voters, which pushes them out of their comfort zones, and forces them to get over their indifferent and given-up state regarding the elections. Unless there is a concerted effort from both the marketer as well as the customer (voters, in this case), public administration would maintain its status quo – something we have been cribbing for generations now!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lebanon – Advertising against Sectarianism – through Sectarianism!

Could you think of resolving the sectarian divide between Hindus and Muslims during partition in India through media? Could you make people conscious of the implications of the divide and the rationality behind it?
Unfortunately, that did not happen...
Probably, the awareness levels were never there…. probably, the resources were never there… or worst, probably the will was never there.

But, if anyone believed that advertising is not a solution to religious conflicts and is ineffective, he needs to reconsider, and have a look at a small organization which is present in a small country called Lebanon, but is doing something that would make a difference to the larger part of the world.

In a country, where every faction of social structure is based on your background, where intra-group affinity and inter-group animosity seems to be rising, where reservation is present in all domains of the political, economic and legal environment, sectarianism seems to be pervasive.

This system of specific reserved rights for various indigenous groups, commonly termed as Confessionalism, is becoming detrimental to the growth of the nation. More so, considering the recent tensions among the ethnic groups with the latest being the killing of a 20-year old, it has become critical to make the locals more conscious of the implications of this divide.

A commendable attempt has been made by a voluntary organization to take this forward –
05 Amam (Al mujtamah Al madani), which is “made up of voluntary people from all religious denominations and not affiliated to any political party

They have recently launched the Stop Sectarianism Campaign, through Billboards, Ambient and press ads, wherein the basic underlying communication is “Stop Sectarianism Before It Stops Us

According to them, this Campaign is an Awareness campaign on sectarianism, wherein the idea is to apprise their fellow countrymen on the fallouts of the increasing divide between various ethnic groups, and how their personal biases could hamper their professional lives as well.

Already, 18 different recognized sects are present in the country, with little affinity for each other.
Picture this – According to a story at Chron,
"Traditionally, Lebanon's president is Maronite, the prime minister is Sunni and the parliament speaker is Shiite. Other posts are reserved for Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Druze. Even TV Channel Stations have their own sectarian bent — the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. for Christians, Future for the Sunnis."

As one can notice, Sectarianism is so ingrained in their daily lives that the entire thought pattern and decision processes have an ethnic base to them, which could prove to be detrimental to their personal growth, and in turn the society as a whole.

The campaign, designed for free by Leo Burnett for Amam and doing the rounds among thousands of expatriates and many locals, mocks at this tradition and animosity by taking the divide to an illogical farcical level and explores options for the near-future – cooking lessons by Greek Orthodox, doctors treating only Muslim Sunnis or Maronites, car for sale never driven by non-maronites, phone directory categorizing names based on their religions, building for sale to Druze, hairstyling by an Armenian Catholic or a fashion agency looking for a beautiful Shiite face.!!

At the bottom, the ads read in English, "Stop sectarianism before it stops us" or, more bluntly in Arabic, "Citizenship is not sectarianism"

It is hard to believe if such things would realistically exist; However, the unfortunate part is that it is not completely unreal, and there is some element of reality already. This is why the advertisements force the community to look at itself.

The campaign is definitely provocative, but it might not appear satirical to some sections of the Lebanese population, as they might be able to relate to most of it. But, to a large extent, it would instigate an introspection of how deep has confessionalism penetrated into the minds of the locals.

To what level this would be effective, time would tell. For the time being, it does make the locals uncomfortable, and to my mind, that’s the first step of success of the campaign.

Kudos to the creative, and the creators!

Reference: Ad Blog Arabia – A blog I found only recently, but something which is pertinent for anyone who would like to know about the communication and marketing developments in the Middle East. Would be visiting this more now. Thank you Zeid and Ahmad!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Where’s the Consumer? There’s a Consumer!

"Then, a consumer wonders…. Is there is any place where I would not be noticed?? "

Advertisers are no longer satisfied with the media they have for Ad exposures – the traditional media is history. Outdoor media is no longer restricted to billboards and road signs. Globally, the trend is changing.
A few examples..

In Shanghai, China,
a giant ship carrying an LED advertising board patrols the Huangpu River in Shanghai.
According to a news item, "the LED board is 30 meters long and 8 meters high, more than half the size of a standard basketball court. During the sail, the board will display various ads. Currently it is mainly showing public service announcements, but the company is looking to sell time to commercial enterprises."

The medium has got mixed reaction from the public, with shopkeepers finding the bright light uncomfortable in the evening, while tourists are awed by the scenery. However, Even though there are complaints by the troubled shopkeepers, local authorities can do little to remove the advertisements, as Mobile advertising is currently unregulated in Shanghai.
[Source: China snippets]

Just to put things in perspective, China, about to be the fifth largest ad market soon growing at an average of 7.5% annually, already has around 72,610 advertising companies, spends almost RMB 243.9 billion on advertising, and roughly RMB 20 billion on out-of-home advertising! [via 8 days magazine and Adage]

At another place…in Vienna, Austria

Advertising pillars, used for unofficial or free publicity, are being used by advertisers to advertise a health school, by projecting a pot belly shaped poster on the pillar. Consumers walking on the road would pass by the pillar and read the URL of the health school advertised.
Incidentally, from the photograph, the road seems to be on the back side. Wondering what the pillar would look like from there ;)!

In Tokyo, Japan, train stations attract a huge media space for advertisers. Innovative methods and media are identified to advertise. So much so that there is a list of “Top 10 advertising tricks for train stations in Tokyo

A particular case in point is the giant tea bottles put up at the station in the form of pillars. In one of the stations in Japan (Shinjuku as it says), pillars in the form of Ucon (Tumeric) Tea Bottles are put, to advertise the tea brand.

and finally, in Melbourne, Australia, the eternal place of advertising is back again – the public bathrooms! According to Adpunch, LCD advertisements are placed above the hand dryer in the public bathrooms at the Melbourne Airport (Tullamarine).

Every consumer would spend around 5-7 seconds in front of the hand dryer. Why to let that space go unaddressed? You never know he might just plan to buy another mobile during that time!

[via Coloribus]

Undoubtedly, consumer-hungry advertisers around the world have left no space untouched to lure the consumer and advertise to him. Be it public transport, tourist destinations, stations or even the bathrooms, the idea is to keep the consumer engaged with advertisements.

From looking at targeting a particular segment, OOD seems to be literally hunting for a consumer! Probably, the lessons that marketers learn “capture the mind space of the consumer” was misinterpreted as “capture the consumer’s space” somewhere…

"Then, a consumer wonders…. Is there is any place where I would not be noticed?? "...

The 21st century woman – No Strings attached!

Been ages since I wrote something. Something or the other kept me occupied. Am sure generations of blog-tourists would have come and gone. Though I have enough to self-justify for this absence, there’s no point in harping over it since it seems to be irrelevant and out of context at the place!

A few days back, I came across an interesting piece in Pune Times that covered a rising trend – a trend that has entailed an emerging psychographic segment for the Tourism Industry – a trend that would evolve and be reinforced with the changing consumer mindset and maturing economy – a trend of women preferring to travel “solo” as independent tourists!

According to the article “Go Solo!”, Indian women are beginning to explore the country and outside on their own, in their own ways, on their own terms!

TILL some time back single women exploring the world on their own was a rare thing. In a country like ours where holidaying with the family is a norm, traveling for pleasure was not something very common as far as women were concerned. But now the trend of women traveling alone is picking up with lots of young girls, middle-aged and even aged women traveling on their own. And travel agencies too are coming up with special travel packages for such travelers.

Special ladies-only packages have been designed for South East Asia (Singapore, Mauritius, Thailand), Europe (Switzerland, UK, etc) and India, and are getting pretty good response from the target segment.

Primarily arising from the innate need of expression of freedom and independence, the Indian woman has decided to move out of the bounded family circle, and venture into a free independent world. Unfortunately, most often, “independent” becomes equivalent to a single woman and carries a different connotation in the typical Indian mindset. Incidentally, this is a perception which is shared in certain other European nations (like Italy) too. Will be discussing this a bit later

With increasing awareness of the world outside, greater proportion of working women, and rising disposable incomes, the trend is gradually evolving. Positioned as “Self-gifting” by most travel agencies, traveling entails certain derived values for women – some explore greener pastures, some explore challenges while some simply take it as a means to escape their monotonous routines and social rut.

Another trend is that although there has been an increase in the number of women willing to travel, the majority of women want to travel in groups. Age, too, is no longer a concern, with agencies getting reservations from 20-year olds to 66-year olds. Although this seems to be a recent trend in India, solo women travelers have been a specific segment in the US and Europe for long.

However, it isn’t all rosy and exciting proposition entirely. There are definite risks attached to solo women traveling, the most important ones being theft, harassment and loneliness. In fact as mentioned at Travel Sense, American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has actually documented the steps to be taken by solo women before traveling. Some of them have been reiterated by transitions abroad.

Though most of these are logical enough for a sensible travel planner, sometimes essentials like deciding clothes based on the local social environment or adopting a more introverted approach in the rustic areas are ignored, leading to unforeseen events. Nonetheless, the roadblocks by no means discourage solo traveling, and workarounds are always possible. As detailed by one of the tourists visiting Delhi, ladies-only queues and seats came to her advantage! “There are ladies-only lines at train and bus stations, one advantage that I found extremely useful to avoid standing in long lines, and getting the best seats on these transportation media

To add to that, there are some really interesting tips I read regarding solo travel. Have a look – a nice read for sure:
  • In southern Europe, men may think that if you’re alone, you’re available. If a man comes too close to you, say “no” firmly in the local language.
  • If he’s well-meaning but too persistent, talk openly to him. Turn him into an ally. If he’s a northern Italian, ask him about southern Italian men. Get advice from him on how you can avoid harassment when you travel farther south. After you elicit his “help,” he’ll be more like a brother than a bother.
  • Usually men are just seeing if you’re interested. Only a few are difficult.
  • Learn how to say “pretty baby” in the local language. If you play peek-a-boo with a baby or fold an origami bird for a kid, you’ll make friends with the parents.
  • Be aware of cultural differences. In Italy, when you smile and look a man in the eyes, it’s considered an invitation. If you wear dark sunglasses, no one can see your eyes. And you can stare all you want.
  • Ask for a room on a higher floor near the elevator but away from emergency exits, stairwells, and any renovation work. Never accept a room if the clerk loudly calls out your name and room number.
  • Wear a real or fake wedding ring and carry a picture of a real or fake husband. There’s no need to tell men that you’re traveling alone. Lie unhesitatingly.
Incidentally, I managed to read an interesting thread for Foreigners planning to visit India – some handy tips by experienced tourists, their stories and suggestions – a must read for first-timers to India

On a serious note, this global trend, termed as “feminization of migration”, has emerged in India as well, reflecting the changing attitude and the face of the Indian Woman. One can no longer typify an Indian woman as a “shy housewife with her face covered, clad in sari, and standing in the shadows of her husband”. It has more to do with self-expression, greater confidence and being more proactive in her approach. She is not only receptive to and reflective of the social environment around her, but also assertive and adaptive to change – a change to which she herself has largely contributed to.

Some food for thought for travel agencies and package designers!